The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the L.A. area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some Los Angeles TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more peruse previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time around we discuss Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
For those not in the know, Derek and the Dominos founded by singer/guitarist Eric Clapton in 1970, was a blues rock band consisting of Clapton )lead guitar and vocals), Bobby Whitlock (organ, piano, vocals and acoustic guitar), Carl Radle (bass and percussion) and Jim Gordon (drums, piano and percussion). The band name was the result of an error on the part of an announcer at their first live gig. Instead of saying “Eric & The Dynamos” he introduced them as “Derek & The Dominos”. Clapton was okay with it because he didn’t want his fame to interfere with the idea that they were a group.
After a live tour, they stepped into the studio to put together an album. It was here that Clapton brought in Duane Allman who was later asked to join but declined. Allman did, however, play slide and acoustic guitar on 11 of the 14 tracks on the group’s only studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Recorded from August through September of 1970, Side one opens on A Clapton-Whitlock collaboration. It’s called “I Looked Away”. It’s a solid enough opening but it is quickly forgotten once Clapton starts his now classic “Bell Bottom Blues”. Allman had not yet signed on to play on the platter so this is pure Clapton including the George Harrison-like guitar solo.
The next number is “Keep On Growing”. This is the longest cut on the side and one of the album’s lengthier pieces—not that fans of co-composers Clapton and Whitlock noticed. The first side ends on a cover of a 1923 blues standard Jimmy Cox’ “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out“.
The flip side opens on a piece titled “I Am Yours”. Clapton gives co-credits to the Persian poet Nizami. Also included here are the Clapton-Whitlock work “Anyday” and the side’s closer—the longest track on the entire double album — a spontaneous, in studio cover of Segar and Broonzy’s 1940’s track “Key to the Highway”. It clocks in at a bit less than 10 minutes and begins with a fade-in because they overheard it being played in another studio and decided to play it themselves.
The third side opens on yet another Clapton-Whitlock collaboration “Tell the Truth” which had initially been recorded as an upbeat song. Whitlock wrote it by himself at Clapton’s house. The pair later turned into a “call and response” tune as they were fans of Sam and Dave.
The album version was a combination of the original lyrics with a slower paced jam more suited to the band’s signature sound. Also included here are the Clapton-Whitlock song “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” and a cover of Billy Myles’ 1960 blues tune “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”.
The final side opens on a cover of the 1967 Jimi Hendrix ethereal song “Little Wing”. It’s followed by the recording’s final cover cut –the band’s up-tempo version of Chuck Willis’ doo-wop song “It’s Too Late”. The next number is perhaps the album’s most memorable.
“Layla” was written by Clapton and Jim Gordon. This was truly a tuneful tale of unrequited love born of Clapton’s relationship with his buddy George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd Harrison. This song makes much of what Clapton has since written pale in comparison.
Whitlock’s “Thorn Tree in the Garden” is the album’s end-note. It is considered by some to be a perfect stereo recording as all the artists sat around a centrally-placed microphone during the session. With a running time of more than 77 minutes Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was released in November 1970 on Atco Records in the US.
The project debuted at number 195 and spent 63 weeks on the chart. It also hit number 16 on the Billboard Top LP’s chart. “Tell the Truth” was originally issued as a single backed with “Roll It Over”. The band had second thoughts about producer Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound production and the single was pulled because it wasn’t true to the group’s signature sound.
The double album went gold in 1971 but it would not be until 1972 that the single “Layla” would break into the top ten in the US and UK. Due in part to the success of “Layla” the LP would again make it into the Billboard 200 in 1972. It would chart again in both 1974 and in 1977. (There would be several different CD re-releases of the album put out between 1983 and 2011.)
In 2000 it would even be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, be ranked at number 117 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003 and most earlier this year the Super Deluxe Edition of the record won a Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album. Largely thanks to Allman’s participation, this release gave Clapton the opportunity to demonstrate his prowess with unnecessarily calling any particular attention to it.
Clapton and Allman musically battled neck and neck and it is often difficult to determine who is playing what and with which guitar. This brought out the best in both artists. Clapton’s thundering leads often perfectly segue into Allman’s lightning-like runs.
Notice the call and response on song “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” Face it, folks, the molten metal exorcism on the now classic “Layla” by itself makes this work one of the premier guitar albums of the entire genre. Indeed, Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is still worthy of the numerous five-star ratings and critical acclaim it still receives to date.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.